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Trump: "If Not For Me, We Would Now Be At War With North Korea"; Embattled EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Faces Mounting Ethical Scandals; Race To Save Soccer Team Trapped In Thai Cave; Trump Administration Won't Say How Many Separated Children Are Still In Custody. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 3, 2018 - 07:30   ET



JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, and Brett Kavanaugh is unusually knowledgeable on this subject because he was -- he worked in the Starr investigation. He wrote the dirty parts of the Starr report and that's how -- that's, you know -- I -- yes, I wrote --

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: They understand (ph).

TOOBIN: -- a whole book about that.


TOOBIN: But there is the possibility that he could be asked to be recused in some of these areas because he has preexisting views because he has some experience here.

But again, he also is being considered because he has these views. I mean, that's the kind of judge that the -- that the president wants on the bench.

BERMAN: All right.

Jeffrey Toobin, David Gregory, thank you so much.

The magical suit of armor worn by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that keeps him from being affected by any scandal. How much longer will it be impervious to these new accusations because there are still new stories to tell you about this morning?

Stay with us.


[07:35:13] BERMAN: There's some breaking news to report this morning.

So, the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is part of the U.S. government, says that North Korea -- Kim Jong Un -- they see no plans that Kim has immediate plans to denuclearize. Again, Kim is not about to denuclearize.

Keep that in mind when I tell you what the president wrote just moments ago. Let me read you from his Twitter account.

"Many good conversations with North Korea. It is going well.

In the meantime, no rocket launches or nuclear testing in eight months. All of Asia is thrilled.

Only the opposition party, which include the fake news, is complaining. If not for me, we would now be at war with North Korea."

Joining us now to discuss, CNN political commentator Ana Navarro and CNN legal and political commentator Ken Cuccinelli.

Guys, this is breaking news.

Sorry to spring this on you, Ana but the president's claim that not for me, we would now be at war with North Korea -- it's interesting in light of all this intelligence that's come forward in the last few days where after the president met with Kim Jong Un, saying that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, it turns out that threat is still very much real, Ana.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And I -- you know, I think is just more confirmation of what we have read and heard in the last few days where they have a third nuclear site.

Whether we would be at war or not, we don't know. I would like to think that the threshold for going into war would be greater.

What is obvious though is that Donald Trump wants a win and if that means not paying attention to the intelligence information, if that means pretending that Kim is denuclearizing, that is what he's going to do.

He cares about his image, he cares about his brand. He cares about scoring a win more than he cares about anything else involving national security of any other topic. We've seen that on the Russia front many times. So I think it is par for the course when it comes to Donald Trump.

It reminds me of Ronald Reagan, right? Trust and verify. This guy is completely the opposite.

BERMAN: You know, Ken, again, the news we've seen in the last few days --


BERMAN: -- the Defense Intelligence Agency says Kim does not have plans to fully denuclearize. We see pictures by independent groups -- these pictures which show that missile production has not ramped down. In some cases, it's ramped up.

Yes, the president met with Kim. Yes, we are not at war with North Korea right now. But, nor are there signs that --


BERMAN: -- North Korea is doing the things the president said they would do.

CUCCINELLI: Well, certainly, this is kind of classic Trump hyperbole.

But at the same time, there are also other signs where they're taking apart one facility. The DIA's information goes in a different director.

But it's only been three weeks and one of the things that was problematic leading up to the meeting between the president and North Korea was the fact that denuclearization is an extremely slow process. It isn't like you pull a plug somewhere.

And the challenge with North Korea has been first, getting over the initial hump -- and I would say they have done that -- but then, it's them staying on the same path. America's been willing to stay on the same path; North Korea hasn't. It's going to take a long time before we really know if they're willing to engage constructively here.

Obviously, the president is happy with how it's gone so far and that's fine and he deserves credit for that. But at the same time, we have a long way to go for this to really come to fruition in a way that's going to matter to the world in the long run.

BERMAN: You speak the truth. Denuclearization is not easy. There is a long way to go which is why when the president says --


BERMAN: -- last week or the other week there is no more nuclear threat in North Korea, that is a lie. That is something that is not true and that is, in a way, misrepresenting this entire complicated process that the U.S. government is now in the middle of right now. So I just wanted to take note of where the president is on that.

CUCCINELLI: Well, if I could comment on that.


CUCCINELLI: I think that -- that hyperbole, I think, is explainable. I think calling that a lie is really overdoing it.

I think that the nuclear threat that he's referring to there is simply Kim being poised to shoot. And there were signs that they -- that hair-trigger position was --

BERMAN: I -- you know, Ken, I got you.

CUCCINELLI: -- in place earlier in the year.

BERMAN: I'm just basing -- I'm just basing this on what we're hearing from Mike Pompeo and from the intelligence agencies, the Defense Department, and others who say --


BERMAN: -- that North Korea has not changed its posture in terms of enriching uranium, in terms of missile capacity, in terms of missile production.

I do want to get you guys on a different subject which is Scott Pruitt, Ana, and as I've been saying, the magical suit of armor that he wears to avoid all scandal.

If we have the full screen I just want to put up -- this is just today. There are three stories -- new stories just today.

"The Washington Post" says "Pruitt aides reveal new details of Pruitt's spending and management at EPA."

[07:40:03] "The New York Times" says former EPA aide -- Scott Pruitt -- it says an aide asked Pruitt to help -- for help on finding work for his wife. That's in addition to the Chick-fil-A story from before.

And then, CNN has a remarkable story that Pruitt really had his calendar scrubbed to remove records of controversial meetings that he had.

Ana, how much longer can this go on?

NAVARRO: Until Donald Trump decides that it can't go on. Until Donald Trump says enough is enough with this guy.

It's really kind of amazing. I mean, he's got 14 ongoing investigations right now. We are talking the House Oversight Committee which is led by Republicans.

And with Scott Pruitt, the department has become the "explain Pruitt's actions department." That's what the EPA is right now.

And you have such a menu of things to pick from, right? From the downright --


NAVARRO: -- ridiculous, like sending staff to go look for lotion that he likes the smell of at the Ritz Carlton, to doing things that are troubling as trying to find his wife a six-figure job in Washington. So, you know, it's petty, it's embarrassing. It's certainly not statesmanlike.

Now the thing is, Scott Pruitt is doing things at the EPA which many conservatives like -- which Trump likes because he is -- you know, there's nothing Trump likes more than undoing something Obama did. So basically, as long as he continues doing that he keeps buying himself time.

But this is -- BERMAN: Yes.

NAVARRO: For Democrats, this is like the gift that keeps on giving and forget drain the swamp. They are able to look the Trump administration in the eye --


NAVARRO: -- and just talk about the hypocrisy and the corruption of the --

BERMAN: Maybe there's a soft skin -- maybe they have a soft skin exception to draining the swamp.

Ken, I want --


BERMAN: I want to -- let me ask you because you say --


BERMAN: In November, you said God forbid we have an administrator of the EPA who thinks it's important to obey the law and Scott does. That was back in 2017.

And again, just to this new story from CNN this morning alone that --


BERMAN: -- there were EPA officials changing the calendar to remove controversial meetings, do you still think that Scott Pruitt is walking the straight and narrow path here?

CUCCINELLI: Certainly, when you see things like that -- and I note in the CNN stories they're talking about the difference between public calendars and not public calendars because it isn't like these e-mails didn't exist and everything else. So I think that Scott is drawing a lot of fire because he's over the target.

And, Ana gave you her EPA acronym; I'll give you mine. Under the Obama administration, it was the "Employment Prevention Agency." And the fact of the matter is Scott is relentlessly --

BERMAN: Hey, but Ken -- but Ken, you know the deputy there. The policy --

CUCCINELLI: -- pursuing this agenda.

BERMAN: I imagine the policy would be same at this point no matter who filled that role. The policy -- the policy could be the same with someone --

CUCCINELLI: No, no, no, no. Look at --

BERMAN: Well -- CUCCINELLI: Compare it to another agency.

BERMAN: But, I --

CUCCINELLI: Like, Ben Carson is at HUD. Very little's happening at HUD. Acosta at Labor. Very little's happening at Labor.

BERMAN: But is it worth it -- is it worth it --

CUCCINELLI: It is not true that someone else wouldn't be this aggressive.

BERMAN: Look, appoint -- Ken, why didn't they appoint you? I'm sure you would do the same thing without 14 investigations into your ethical issues right now.

CUCCINELLI: (Laughing).

NAVARRO: Go ahead, Ken, do it. Listen, I've got a -- I've got a drawer full of those lotions from the Ritz Carlton so go ahead and do it. I've got you covered.

CUCCINELLI: Yes, I'm not a -- I'm not a big lotion guy. I'm not a big lotion guy.

But look, I'm not -- I'm not going to say that there aren't mistakes there.

NAVARRO: You should try it. You know, moisturizing is very underestimated.

BERMAN: I'll give you the last word, Ken.

CUCCINELLI: But -- yes, look, Scott has made some mistakes. I do think this one is another example of seizing how they operate. And could it -- could it be better? Yes. Could it be worse? It was.

He doesn't have the server in his bathroom, he doesn't have a separate e-mail like the previous EPA administrator --

BERMAN: But the e-mail -- I do think --

CUCCINELLI: -- and the media didn't care about that.

BERMAN: But it is -- it isn't about the e-mails.

CUCCINELLI: He is relentlessly reducing regulations --


CUCCINELLI: -- and that is why he's taking all this fire.

BERMAN: Yes, he's changing his calendar and he's trying to get his wife multiple jobs with government employees at the same time. I think you can do what you want with the environment without the ethical issues as well. Ken Cuccinelli, great to have you with us.

Ana Navarro --

CUCCINELLI: That would be ideal.

BERMAN: -- thank you very much. Nivea online, too, for you, Ana, as we speak.

NAVARRO: Moisturize.


BERMAN: All right, Alisyn --

CAMEROTA: -- not overrated.

CUCCINELLI: Ana, not me.

CAMEROTA: Maybe he could use a salt scrub to clean his calendar.

BERMAN: Exfoliating --

CAMEROTA: Exfoliating his calendar.

BERMAN: Exfoliating --

CAMEROTA: Maybe he's exfoliating his calendar.

BERMAN: That's investigation number 15 on Scott Pruitt.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Put the lotion in the basket.

CAMEROTA: There you go. All right.

Meanwhile, switching gears, the clock is still ticking this morning on the effort to rescue these 12 boys who are trapped in a Thailand cave. We will give you an update on what can happen next.


[07:48:33] CAMEROTA: OK, we are watching a race against time right now to save these 12 young soccer players and their coach. They were found alive but they are trapped now for 10 days in this cave in Thailand. So how are rescuers going to get them out of these rising waters more than a half a mile under the surface?

CNN's Anna Coren is live at the scene in Thailand with the latest. What's happening this hour, Anna?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, in the last hour we heard from the deputy governor of Chiang Rai, the province here, and he said that if it's appropriate and if they have a chance they will start getting the boys out tonight.

Now, this is quite a stunning development considering we heard earlier from authorities saying they're going to bring four months' worth of food into the cave for it -- to allow these 12 boys and their coach to sit out the rainy season.

But it seems like something has changed. There has been a development inside the cave, whether they've managed to widen these narrow passageways, whether the water has decreased quite significantly. We know that they're pumping 24/7 around the clock hundreds of thousands of liters per hour.

So it seems that there is an urgency -- a real urgency to get these boys out. He said it must be 100 percent safe for these boys.

These boys -- we have seven Navy SEALs. These Navy SEALs haven't gone anywhere ever since they found them. They're supplying food, they're supplying medical support, and they will be the ones helping these kids get out of the cave.

[07:50:10] And if it happens, Alisyn, they will be coming out of the entrance straight behind me.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, Anna. Please, please keep us posted on any more developments. If they could start tonight that would be truly miraculous. Thank you very much for the update from there.

OK, so is there any way the Trump administration can reunite those 2,000-plus children with their parents or do they not know how? A former director of ICE is here to tell us.


CAMEROTA: OK, now to those 2,000-plus children still separated from their parents. Last Tuesday, a federal judge ordered them to be reunited but no one seems to be able to tell us how that will happen.

Joining us now is the former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Sandweg. Mr. Sandweg, thank you for being here.


CAMEROTA: The president signed the order reversing his family separation policy two weeks ago. Why haven't these 2,000 children, as far as we know, been reunited with their parents yet?

[07:55:07] SANDWEG: Well, I think the simple answer is that the administration apparently refuses to release the parents from detention. Look, this is very complex to reunite these children with their parents when you continue to detain the parents.

The simple way to solve this is to release the parents and let them go through the kind of bureaucracy and the thicket of rules and regulations that they need to go through to regain custody of their children.

CAMEROTA: Right, but it --

SANDWEG: But as long as the administration continues to detain it's not going to happen.

CAMEROTA: Isn't that what the Trump administration would call catch and release that they are trying to stamp out?

SANDWEG: It is catch and release but here's the problem -- and I understand people's frustration with catch and release. The problem with catch and release though is that typically when you release the individuals they still stay in deportation proceedings. The problem is that the hearings aren't set out for months if not years later.

I think the administration, though -- they control the immigration court docket and by that, I mean they could set an expedited hearing for these parents. So you could still release the parents but still have deportation proceedings that move in a rapid fashion.

CAMEROTA: I see. So you could speed up what they could focus on instead of separating families.

What they could focus on is speeding up the court document so that the policy that they don't like, catch and release, is quicker and gives less time to sort of wander in the interior of the U.S., which is what they say they hate.

Is there any process that you know of as a former ICE director to reunite these kids and their parents, and explain how it can happen if the child is an 18-month-old toddler or younger.

SANDWEG: Well, you have to understand there's a very good reason why we, during the Obama administration, never intentionally separated families. And the reason you do that is it's very hard to reunite them.

Once they get caught up in the system, the children go off in one direction where it's a very slow process. The parents, when they are locked in detention, go through a very expedited process.

The children get under the custody of foster -- they get caught up in the foster care system and it gets very difficult to bring them back together. So it doesn't -- and that's why we never actually intentionally separated the parents from the children.

What's stunning to me is that the administration went about this policy without a plan about how to reunite the kids. Even if the parents are deported it gets incredibly complex to reunite the kids.

So, yes, as you were saying a moment ago, the administration controls the immigration court docket. They could provide expedited hearings for these parents and release them. Put them on an ankle bracelet -- something that makes sure they show up for court. Let them reunite their children and still move to deport them as quickly as possible.

CAMEROTA: Is it possible that some of these parents will never see their children again? Will never be reunited with their children? SANDWEG: You know, I worry that it's true, especially for those parents who are getting deported. And I've heard stories and you hear anecdotes that they're telling individuals -- they're telling parents that if you agree to be deported -- if you drop your asylum claim --

You know, it's the asylum claim that keeps the parents in the United States because they cannot be deported until a judge decides whether they present a valid asylum claim or not.

So you're hearing these stories that the administration -- or that CBP and/or ICE are telling individuals if you drop your asylum claims and agree to be deported we can reunite you with your children quickly.

The problem is that's not entirely true. Once the parents are -- the children are in the United States, they get in there with a guardian or in a foster care system, they -- it is very -- you know, they have a number of rights to remain here in the United States.

There are other people speaking on their behalf and it gets very difficult to say -- for a judge to say well, maybe it's in the child's best interest to go back to war-torn Guatemala where there's gangs running wild rather than staying in this -- in the United States.

So yes, there remains a risk. Hopefully -- you know, listen, the administration's falling under pressure from courts. Hopefully, these court orders in Washington State yesterday and in San Diego here most -- last week -- hopefully, those will force the administration to finally take the appropriate action here, release the parents, and let them reunite with their children.

CAMEROTA: But, I mean, I just want to pause and underscore something that you just said that they're offering parents this bribe or this offer -- whatever you want to call it -- and they're not necessarily fulfilling their end of the bargain. They're saying drop your asylum claim and we'll reunite you quickly with your children, but then they're not necessarily doing that.

Is that true?

SANDWEG: You know, I'm not sure they're necessarily lying to them and this is -- these are stories that you're reading about in the media and you're hearing from lawyers and other individuals. So I'm not sure they're telling them explicitly we will reunite you with your children. They're simply saying we'll provide you an opportunity to release you so you can now reclaim your child.

The problem is, again though, they give them -- all they give them is a hotline number to call. So they call the hotline, nobody answers, and even if someone does answer they're not entirely sure where the child is.

And even if you locate the child, typically and often you have to go through an extensive process proving your actually the parent, proving you're a fit parent. Proving that the conditions you're going to house your child in are actually -- you know, are safe and appropriate for the child. So how can you do all those things when you're -- you know, just candidly when you're penniless, you probably don't speak English, and you're now back in Guatemala or Honduras and you're trying to reclaim your child who might be anywhere in the United States?

It's not a simple process but -- and, you know, this is the frustrating thing is that these things were things that were known to the career officials at Health and Human Services, at ICE, at CBP before they enacted this policy. So it just seems to me that if you're going to enact this policy of family separation you need to have a plan for family reunification.